The last month has served as one of the more exciting in recent Canadian history. Widespread protests have hit cities across the country. Railroads and border crossings were blockaded. Mall-goers have been confronted with massive political flash mobs.
People, for once, are forcing the government to listen to their needs, which is more-or-less the central theme of democracy.
But many of the issues that have been raised have been either ignored or ridiculed by the public for one very particular reason: the movement, Idle No More, is about Aboriginal rights.
Thanks to fundamental flaws in our education system (see Howard Zinn for more), most Canadian citizens are woefully ignorant about the issues that First Nations, Metis and Inuit people face.
This has resulted in despicable racism. Most of the time, it seems that Canadians consider themselves to be less discriminatory than Americans. It’s time to reconsider that assumption.
A quick review of the comment section accompanying any story about Idle No More on CBC — widely considered to be the most sympathetic outlet to progressive causes — is filled with misconceptions about treaty rights, Aboriginal history and what the movement is fighting against.
Now, to be clear, we’re not arguing that the movement or the Aboriginal community (which really includes too many distinct traditions to be lumped in to one category) is flawless. The third-party audit of the Attawapiskat First Nation — which hunger-striking Theresa Spence is the chief of — has revealed horrendous accounting processes, although there’s no proof of fraud.
In fact, the very nature of Spence’s hunger strike is highly controversial, especially considering the meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Jan. 11 was meant to be the conclusion of it.
But, at this point, most Canadians seem to be missing the forest for the trees. Bill C-45, the budget implementation bill that sparked the process, is disgustingly undemocratic. Harper knows it: he protested the use of omnibus bills to push unrelated legislation through when he was the Opposition Leader.
Environmental safeguards are being slashed, treaty rights redefined and consultation with First Nations ignored.
While Idle No More was started and popularized by the Aboriginal community — and rightly so — it’s ultimately about every Canadian. It’s about what kind of country we want. It’s time for us to step up and help be the change.